This morning, as I walked past a market area in Castries, from somewhere in a small crowd of people, I heard, “Hey white boy!”
I turned because – as is often the case – I was the only white person in the area. A man sporting dreadlocks somewhere between his mid-twenties and mid-thirties asked, “You okay?”
I gave him the universal thumbs-up symbol with my right hand and said something like, “Yes I am. Have a good day.”
I think it has to do with the island’s French history that it is common to ask, “You good?”, “You alright?”, “You okay?” where French speakers would ask, “Ça va?”
Okay, back to being the ‘white boy’. While that is the first time hearing that label since arriving seven weeks ago, I do recall being referred to as, “white man” or “white guy” once or twice. I also regularly get asked for money…
There’s a man I often see in town who always approaches me with a fun, friendly and somewhat loud, “Hey buddy you gonna’ sponsor me today?” and “Jesus will bless you”.
I head into downtown Castries about once-a-week for lunch (when there are no leftovers in the fridge and I run out of time to make a sandwich). I was sitting down eating a felafel (I love felafel) in front of the take-out window last week when a man approached me for money – he had approached me before. I do not usually give money – I am not wealthy, I am here working for free as part of my schooling, and I have a family back home. This young man proceeded to tell me that I told him I would buy him lunch last time we spoke. I looked up at him and said, “I did not say that.”
The conversation was getting heated and he would not take, “No, sorry” for an answer. He said, “you’re not sorry, you come here from your country because you don’t like something back home and you act the same way here.”
I knew, even then, that this young man was hungry and that he was angry because of that hunger but I was also getting angry. I looked up at him again and quietly said, “You do not know me.” He said a number of things afterwards…
He suddenly started backing off into the alley and yelling to the shop owner and workers. He said something derogatory about Syrians and mentioned that they were weak and that he was strong while pushing his chest out and his arms spread wide, “I’m from Colombia and my father is Venezuelan, I’m strong!” .
Race, racism and oppression are often in my mind. I feel unease writing this posting because I am privileged – I am a white man from Canada. While I have experienced poverty and periods of hunger to the point of losing weight, I haven’t been forced to live that way for periods of time lasting more than a year. I haven’t left a country seeking refuge. I have a reasonable expectation of finding meaningful work when I am finished my practicum in St. Lucia. I have always had a home. I have never had to sleep outside, in the streets, or in the bush, or on the beach.
Being called “white boy” doesn’t feel like racism. Racism works differently in the Caribbean where white colonizers and slave owners left a long time ago. The vast majority of St. Lucians are of African descent and some are of Indian descent. The vast majority of white people are tourists – and tourists tend to like living in their own cultures even while traveling.
Like any country, there are systems of oppression that work against certain communities. And, as with Canada, that oppression creates long-term poverty and hunger. Oppression also creates anger and resentment among both the oppressed and oppressors.
I also want to point out that the vast majority of Lucians I meet do not make mention of my skin – except maybe to remind me of the importance of sunscreen. This country is warm and welcoming in so many ways.
I am fortunate to have this experience. It makes me think. And I am thinking…I know this posting became a bit disjointed and rambling…I am going to think about that too…